- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 22, 2008

CHARLOTTESVILLE | Clemson and Virginia are fighting to get the wins they need to qualify for a bowl game, but the situation is dire for the Tigers. Lose again and they’re home for the holidays.

The Tigers have been one of the nation’s most disappointing teams. Picked to win the ACC, they instead saw coach Tommy Bowden resign after just six games.

The Tigers (5-5, 3-4) have won twice against teams in the Football Championship Subdivision. Bowl eligibility rules say only one counts, though, so they can only extend their season by beating Virginia and then winning next weekend against rival South Carolina.

Falling short is not something they care to think about.

“A bowl game is the most fun part of the season. It’s what you play for all year,” receiver Jacoby Ford said. “It’s a reward and a privilege and you don’t want to end things in the regular season - especially for your seniors.”

Virginia (5-5, 3-3) sees it the same way and will honor its 24 fourth- and fifth-year players before their last game at home. The Cavaliers could wind up having far more to play for than bowl eligibility. Thanks to Georgia Tech’s Thursday night shellacking of Miami, a Virginia victory could send the Cavaliers to Virginia Tech next week with the Coastal Division title on the line if Miami also loses at N.C. State.

“These last two games will really define our season,” linebacker Clint Sintim said. “We’ve had our ups and downs this season. We’ve won some quality games against some really good competition, and we’ve lost some games that maybe we shouldn’t have lost the way we did. We’ll see how it finishes off.”

First things first, receiver Kevin Ogletree said.

“We can’t win two at once,” he said. “The next game is the most important, like we’ve been saying for a while. We’re going to have to play our best ball to win because around this time, everyone’s hungry.”

The Tigers have split four games under interim coach Dabo Swinney, who’s in the running to take over the program on a permanent basis. Watching Clemson on film showcases its talent on both sides of the ball, Virginia tight end John Phillips said, and makes an impression.

“They were ranked No. 9 in the country for a reason,” Phillips said. “They’ve got a lot of great players on their team. … It’s a dangerous game when sometimes they play to their potential and sometimes they don’t, so you never really know what team you’re going to get.”

The Cavaliers can expect Clemson’s best, tailback C.J. Spiller said, citing the team’s 28 seniors as his motivation to finish strong.

“That’s the main thing: You don’t want these seniors to have to play their last game next week. So we have to understand there’s no looking forward,” he said. “We just have to execute, and I’ve taken it upon myself to try and see to it these guys make it to postseason play.”

Spiller, along with quarterback Cullen Harper and fellow runner James Davis, was one of the main reasons for the Tigers’ high expectations. After an injury-plagued start, he’s starting to show why: In his past three starts, he has averaged almost 200 combined yards running, receiving and on returns.

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